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Home Articles The majestic valleys of Kalash
The majestic valleys of Kalash

The majestic valleys of Kalash


By Sajid Mehmood Qazi

Isolation and Chitral are synonymous. It is a three hundred kilometer long valley in the upper northwestern corner of Pakistan. The Hindu Kush Mountain range separates it from Afghanistan in the West and Central Asian Republic of Tajikistan in the North. Chitral Valley is accessible by air as well as road, but both are conditional upon weather. PIA’s Peshawar-Chitral daily flight, seldom operates daily. While the road link is conditional to the opening of the Lowari Top. At the height of 10,500 ft., Lowari is open for traffic only from May to October. It takes a sturdy jeep at least five hours to cross this pass linking Dir with Chitral. Another jeep road linking Chitral with Northern Areas is via Shandoor Pass (13000 ft.), from Gilgit in the East. There is an easier access into Chitral from Afghanistan, along the Kunar River. But this is prone to waylaying by the local Afghan tribes.

However once in Chitral, one forgets all about the hazards of travelling. Surrounding by breath taking greenery, the visitor is especially taken aback by the three Kalash valleys Bamburat, Rambur and Birir. These valleys are situated to the southwest of Chitral, between Kunar River and the Afghan border. These valleys are the shrunken home of the non-Muslim Kafar Kalash (black infidels). Since these valleys are on the edge of monsoon belt, a lot of greenery and vegetation coupled, with big walnut and other fruit trees are spread across the ubiquitous network of fresh water streams.

Presently, about four thousand Kalash live in two dozen scattered villages. Numerically, they once used to be much bigger, living in neighbouring Afghanistan. The entire group of valleys was called Kafaristan (the land of infidels). But by the end of the 19th century, much of them were forcibly converted to Islam and the name of their land was changed to Nooristan (the land of light). Though reduced much less in number and scared of persecution, these Kalash tribes still exercise their religious acts which are a combination of animism and ancestor/fire-worship.

They have designated many gods for many things; god Surisan protects the cattle; god Praba looks after fruit. And above all, god Sajigor is in-charge of everything.

Kalash women are uniquely dressed up in flowing black woollen robe, right down to their feet. The border of this dress is heavily worked up with gaudy coloured embroidery. They wear heavy ornaments around their necks, which comprises of yellow, golden and orange beads. But the most spectacular part of their getup is the headdress, which is made up a of black material covered with strings of cowrie shells and a variety of buttons, and is topped with a big crown of feathers and reddish wool. The tail-piece of the headdress flows down the back exposing vivid colours and intricate patterns.

Economy of the Kalash people is pegged around subsistence farming. Two of the important crops are grapes and walnuts. They are harvested in autumn. The Kalash make wine and it is particularly good in Birir, where the best grapes are grown. Being a lively lot, these people observe as many as a dozen festivals in a year; each festival either coinciding with plucking of fruits and harvesting or preparation of wine. Post harvest days are full of feasting and family celebrations. The Kalash feel proud in inviting people to their places and sharing fruit and drink.


Being at the lowest altitude of all the three valleys, it is the hottest with the best of fruit growing done here. It is less green than the other valleys but its narrow and rocky ‘nooks and corners’ are full of emerald turfs. It also offers good views of old and darkened Kalash architecture in the backdrop of green field bathed in shimmering sunlight.


This valley is accessible from Chitral by an hours jeep drive. It is slightly narrow but equally full of life. Here you can meet Mr. Engineer, the first graduate of the Kalash valley. He speaks fluent English and tells very interesting stories of the origin of the Kalash tribe, their religion and social values and other daily rituals. He explains various theories of Kalash origin, which links them either with Alexander the Great, or with the people of the city of Siam in the East. He also explains the practices of dancing at the start of spring, which is celebrated like the Muslim festival of Eid. The Chilum Josht festival, which heralds the beginning of spring, is celebrated each year in mid-May. The whole women folk prepare new cloth for the occasion. They dance in their traditional way by making a human chain of at least three in number which goes up to 20 at times. In a semi-circle putting their hands around each other’s shoulders. Men folk and religious leaders (known as Qazis) are encircled by the dancing women. Traditional drumbeat, flute playing and whistling are synchronized with rhythmic dancing steps of the women. This feast is the most attractive feature of the Kalash culture.

Rambur Valley is also the home of first lady pilot of the area. Election Bibi is a young energetic and vivacious lady. She represents a society that makes a smooth transition from the rich cultural background, to the modern day life, at the same time preserving and glorifying the identity and sanctity of the former.


It is the largest of all the Kalash Valleys. Set on the left bank of Bamburat River, this valley is a beautiful combination of flowing waterfalls and green hillocks in the back drop of the richest Kalash culture. Most of the Kalash villages and settlements are away from the road with sharply tiered houses placed one upon the other up at the hillside. These houses represent a fine spectacle of architecture with huge wooden beams interspersed with stone. The wooden holy places are strictly out of bound for women. At the same time, menstruation homes, where Kalash women retire for a week of seclusion, can only be visited by women.

In the nearby woods, one can encounter the Kalash graveyard. The Kalash leave their dead ones in open wooden coffins above grounds. The myth says that open coffins facilitate the easy exit of souls. Exploring the side valleys on foot opens up newer vistas of spectacular landscapes, irrigational channels made up of wooden ducts, small clearings of farms among thick foliage and above all, scenic waterfalls. There are endless trekking opportunities ranging from the easier one hour to the more demanding. The most challenging one is that of Bamburat to Birir valley. It takes you over the steep 10,000 ft. ridge separating the two valleys. Only the fit and motivated will get over in 5 hours.

Bamburat Valley has various small hotels and a PTDC lodge. It has nice campsites along the riverbank. The journey right from Dir to Lowari and Chitral city is an endless extravaganza of profusion of Mother Nature’s bounties, in one form or the other. A mix of green and barren mountains, serenity of Kunar and smaller river waters and the grand Trich Mir over looking everything from a height of more than 23,000 ft. makes the valley heavenly in all respects.

One can go on and on writing about various charms and attractions of the valleys. But I stop here and dare my countrymen — both young and young at heart — to go there and explore these mysterious and isolated valleys for themselves. Just be respectful to the local culture and traditions and preserve the natural environment as much as possible.